PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
The Bills didn't waste time inserting Marcell Dareus back into the lineup. After passing his conditioning test and being removed from the active/non-football injury list Thursday, Dareus received a healthy dose of reps with the first-team defense in team drills Friday night. He didn't have any noticeable hiccups, and proved a load to block for the Bills' offensive line. In the second play of a 9-on-9 drill, Dareus fought through two blockers for a "sack" of quarterback EJ Manuel. While Darus excelled in Mike Pettine's three-man front last season, he could be an even better fit in Jim Schwartz's four-man line this season. Dareus' issue is with staying disciplined and out of trouble off the field.
Running back Fred Jackson left practice early with a lower leg injury. It didn't appear to be serious but is obviously something worth monitoring as camp wears on. I don't have an exact count, but the general feeling from looking over my notes is that we've seen more of Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon than Jackson in team drills through the first week of camp. That's expected. At 33, Jackson is the oldest running back in the league and just one of seven running backs over 30 currently on an NFL roster. There won't be much reason to rush back Jackson from this injury. We're still in July. He's a veteran who knows the offense and, if fresh, can give the team quality carries in November and December.
This wasn't the best night for Bills quarterbacks. I walked over to the far practice field early in the session for a routes-versus-air drill with receivers. It wasn't crisp, especially on deep patterns. Thad Lewis has shown the best arm for deep balls and continued with that Friday night. Manuel and Jeff Tuel both were off the mark more than once. When the quarterbacks re-convened for team drills, Manuel and Sammy Watkins had trouble connecting on their first two deep balls. There was also a pass later on where Manuel hit Watkins in the chest on a slant but Watkins had a rare drop. The best two throws of the night came in Manuel's final two third downs of 11-on-11's, when he hit Robert Woods in stride on crossing patterns for first downs. Third downs have been an issue for the Bills, so that was a positive sign.
After struggling in their first red zone work Wednesday, the Bills' first-team offense stepped it up Friday night. The final period of practice featured a total of eight plays -- four from Manuel and four from Tuel -- from inside the five-yard line. Manuel hit Mike Williams and Chis Hogan for touchdowns, while Hogan was stopped short of the end zone on a good tackle by cornerback Ross Cockrell on another play. Tuel, meanwhile, targeted Kevin Elliott three times in the end zone but failed to connect.
The Bills shuffled around their linebackers Friday night. There was one 11-on-11 drill where the top unit consisted of Nigel Bradham, Preston Brown, and Stevenson Sylvester -- with veterans Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers watching from the sidelines. We also saw different combinations of nickel linebacker packages, which has been the case throughout camp. With the loss of Alonso, it's a position that will see a complete overhaul this season, so it's not surprising to see the Bills tinkering with their personnel at this point in camp.